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Omaha Magazine

When Hurting Parents Need Help

Mar 20, 2014 09:36AM ● By Kristen Hoffman
Jamie* simply didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t find a job. Had no money. Really didn’t care anymore. It was easier to just lie on the sofa and sleep. If she could find a few bucks, she could get a bottle of bourbon—which would help her block out the reality of her disappointing life. After all, her kids could fend for themselves, right? They didn’t really need her.

Abuse is not the only reason children are removed from their homes. Often, the home simply isn’t safe. Their single parent isn’t working. The utilities have been turned off—no running water, electricity, or heat. Dangerous substances are consistently left within a child’s reach—drugs, alcohol, cleaning solutions.

In this particular case, this severely depressed mother had five children and the oldest, at age 12, is doing what she can to take care of her brothers and sisters. By the time social services became aware of this family’s plight, the mother was months behind on her utility bills. Their apartment was cold. The children lugged water in jugs, and there was little food in the kitchen, none of it fresh or healthy. Although this mother truly did love her children, she needed someone to care enough to help her out of her despair. If conditions weren’t improved immediately, the children would be moved into foster care for their own safety.

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) can become involved in cases like this in a number of ways. Sometimes, LFS caseworkers become engaged through the schools, as in the Learning Community Family Liaison program. LFS Family Liaisons are in 14 Omaha schools, working alongside parents to help determine if home issues are impacting a child’s ability to learn and excel. Family Liaisons have worked through problems as simple as helping a child get glasses to as serious as preventing a family from becoming homeless.

LFS also becomes involved through referrals from the courts or from other providers. Through LFS Safety and In Home Services programming, caseworkers intervene with families in crisis—with the primary goal of creating a peaceful home where the children are safe. In Jamie’s case, the caseworker was able to work with her to find a full-time job, daycare for her children, and resources to get the family’s utilities back on. The caseworker also directed Jamie to an LFS therapist who was able to prescribe medication for her depression. This particular program, Intensive Family Preservation, is usually involved with a family from three to four weeks but no more than two months. Other services within Safety and In Home Services include Parenting Time for children who have been removed from their home but are now allowed supervised visits with their biological family members, and Family Support, where clients learn appropriate social and parenting skills, develop self-esteem, or get help in finding community resources.

The overarching goal of these programs is to build and strengthen families by developing self-sufficiency. Most client/parents struggle with the day-to-day reality of extreme poverty. It’s not that they don’t love their children. They just need compassionate guidance in learning to provide and care for them safely—skills that many have never seen modeled in their own lives. LFS is committed to helping them get there.

*Name has been changed for privacy.